The National Gazetteer of Wales

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The Counties of Wales

Wales is comprised of 13 Counties, each of which is denoted on the Map of Wales. Brief descriptions are given here of each of the Counties:


The present day pattern of the Counties of Wales was established by the Law in Wales Act 1535. This Act abolished the powers of the lordships of the March and established the Counties of Denbighshire, Montgomeryshire, Radnorshire, Brecknockshire and Monmouthshire from the areas of the former lordships. The other 7 Counties had, by then, already been in existence since at least the 13th century. The Counties are based, however, on much older traditional areas. As the renowed historian William Rees says, in his "Historical Atlas of Wales":
" ... the boundaries of the modern shires have largely been determined by the ancient divisions of the country. The survival of these ancient local divisions within the pattern of historical change constitutes a vital element in the framework of the national life and helps to preserve its continuity."

Anglesey. Known in Welsh as Sir Fôn. An insular County separated from the mainland of Caernarfonshire by the Menai Straits to which it is connected by the Menai Suspension Bridge. The island is about 20 miles long, 26 miles broad. Area 176,630 acres. Population 68,000. It is the only county in Wales that is not mountainous, the highest point being Holyhead Hill (703ft). Its northern coast is rocky and a haven for nesting seabirds. Elsewhere the coast is gentler and dotted with shingle and sandy beaches. There are many antiquities. The main rivers are the Braint and the Cefni. The main towns are Holyhead, Llangefni, Amlwch and Menai Bridge. Holyhead is a ferry terminal for the Republic of Ireland. The most important industries are agriculture and tourism.
Places of special interest: Beaumaris Castle (SH6076); Bryn Celli Ddu neolithic tomb (SH5070); Din Lligwy iron age village (SH4986); Lynnon Windmill, Llanddeusant (SH3485), Plas Newydd gardens (SH5269); St Seriol's Well (SH6380); South Stacks RSPB bird reserve (SH2082).

Brecknockshire. Also known as Breconshire or, in Welsh, as Sir Frycheiniog. An inland County bounded N. by Radnorshire, E. by Herefordshire and Monmouthshire, S. by Monmouthshire and Glamorgan, and W. by Carmarthenshire and Cardiganshire. Area 475,224 acres. Population 56,000. The County is predominantly rural and mountainous. The Black Mountains occupy the SE of the County, the Brecon Beacons the central region, Fforest Fawr the SW and Mynydd Eppynt the North. Most of the Brecon Beacons National Park lies within the County. The highest point is Pen-y-Fan (2907 ft). The River Wye traces nearly the whole of the N. boundary, and the Usk flows in an easterly direction through the central valley. Of the many waterfalls in the County, Henrhyd Falls are particularly spectacular. The main towns are Brecon, Brynmawr, Builth Wells, Hay-on-Wye, Llanwrtyd Wells and Ystradgynlais. The most important industries are agriculture, forestry and tourism.
Places of special interest: Brecon Beacons Mountains Centre, Libanus (SO0428); Brecknock Musuem, Brecon (SN9726); Dan-yr-Ogof Caves, Glyntawe (SN8316); Tretower Castle and Court (SO1821); Y Gaer Roman Fort (SO0029).

Caernarfonshire. Also known as Carnarvonshire or, in Welsh, as Sir Gaernarfon. A maritime County bounded N. by the Irish Sea, E. by Denbighshire, S. by Cardigan Bay and Merioneth, and W. by Caernarfon Bay and the Menai Straits, which separates it from Anglesey. Area 361,156 acres. Population 128,000. The surface is mountaineous. A large part of the Snowdonia National Park lies in the County including Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales (3560 ft). The Lleyn Peninsula is less mountaineous and contains many bays and sandy beaches. Bardsey Island is a major site for nesting seabirds. The River Conwy runs north along the E. boundary. Principal towns are Bangor, Betws-y-Coed, Caernarfon, Conwy, Porthmadog and Pwllheli. Sheep rearing and tourism are the main industries, the coast being much developed for the latter.
Places of special interest: Bardsey Island (SH1221); Caernarfon Castle (SH4762); Conwy Castle (SH7877); Cricceith Castle (SH4937); Great Orme Tramway (SH7883); Gwydir Castle, nr. Llanrwst (SH7961); Penrhyn Castle (SH6071); Swallow Falls, Betws-y-Coed (SH7657); Snowdon Mountain Railway, Llanberis (SH5859); Ty Mawr Wybrnant (SH7752).

Cardiganshire. Known in Welsh as Ceredigion or Sir Aberteifi. A maritime County bounded W. by Cardigan Bay, N. by Merioneth, E. by Montgomeryshire, Radnorshire and Brecknockshire, and S. by Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire. Area 440,630 acres. Population 64,000. The Cambrian Mountains cover much of the E. of the County. In the S. and W. the surface is less elevated. The highest point is Plynlimmon at 2,486 feet at which five rivers have their source: the Severn, the Wye, the Dulas, the Llyfnant and Rheidol, the last of which meets the Mynach in a 300-foot plunge at the Devil's Bridge chasm. The 50 miles of coastline has many sandy beaches. The main towns are Aberaeron, Aberystwyth, Cardigan, Lampeter, New Quay, Newcastle Emlyn (partly in Carmarthenshire) and Tregaron. The chief river is the Teifi which forms the border with Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire for much of its length. Tourism and agriculture, chiefly hill farming, are the most important industries.
Places of special interest: Ceredigion Museum, Aberystwyth (SN5881); Devil's Bridge (SN7477); Strata Florda Abbey (SN7465); Vale of Rheidol Railway (SN5881).

Carmarthenshire. Known in Welsh as Sir Gaerfyrddin. A maritime County bounded N. by Cardiganshire, E. by Brecknockshire and Glamorgan, S. by the Bristol Channel and W. by Pembrokeshire. The largest County in Wales. Area 587,816 acres. Population 167,000. The surface generally is upland and mountainous. Fforest Fawr and Black Mountain extend into the E. of the County and the Cambrian Mountains into the North. The S. coast contains many fishing villages and sandy beaches. The highest point is Carmarthen Fau (2,525 feet). Principal towns are Ammanford, Burry Port, Carmarthen, Kidwelly, Llanelli, Llandeilo, and Llandovery. The main rivers are the Tywi, the Lougher (which forms the E. boundary with Glamorgan), and the Gwendraeth Fawr. The principal industries are agriculture, forestry, fishing and tourism.
Places of special interest: Carreg Cennen Castle (SM6619); Dolaucothi Gold Mines (SN6640); Kidwelly Castle (SN4007); Laugharne Castle (SN3010); National Botanic Garden of Wales (SM5216); Pembrey Country Park (SN4000).

Denbighshire. Known in Welsh as Sir Ddinbych. A maritime County bounded N. by the Irish Sea, E. by Flintshire, Cheshire and Shropshire, S. by Montgomeryshire and Merioneth, and W. by Caernarfonshire. Area 423,499 acres. Population 205,000. In the S. and W. of the County the mountains of the Clwydian Range rise from 1000 to 2500ft high. The E. of the County if hilly. There is some level ground along the coastal strip. The highest points are Moel Sych and Cader Berwyn at 2,713 feet. Pistyll-y-Rhaeader is a spectacular 240 feet waterfall. The chief rivers are the Clwyd and the Dee. The River Conwy runs north along the W. boundary. The main towns are Abergele, Denbigh, Colwyn Bay, Llangollen, Llanrwst, Ruthin and Wrexham. The most important industries are agriculture and tourism.
Places of special interest: Bodnant Gardens, Tal-y-Cafn (SH7972); Chirk Castle (SJ2638); Denbigh Castle (SJ0565); Eliseg's Pillar (SJ2044); Plas Newydd, Llangollen (SJ2241); Valle Crucis Abbey (SJ2044).

Flintshire. Known in Welsh as Sir y Fflint. A maritime County bounded N. by the Irish Sea, NE by the Dee estuary, E. by Cheshire and S. and SW. by Denbighshire. A large detached part (Maelor Saesneg) is bounded on the NW by Denbighshire, on the NE by Cheshire, and on the S. by Shropshire. There is a further small detached part around Marford. Flintshire is the smallest County in Wales. Total area 164,744 acres. Population 203,000. The coast along the Dee estuary is heavily developed by industry and the N. coast much developed for tourism. The Clwydian Mountains occupy much of the W. of the County. The highest point is Moel Fammau (1,820 feet). The chief towns are Bangor-is-y-coed, Buckley, Connah's Quay, Flint, Holywell, Mold, Prestatyn, Queensferry, Rhyl, Shotton and St. Asaph. The main rivers are the Dee (the estuary of which forms much of the coast) and the Clwyd. The main industries are steelworking, agriculture and tourism.
Places of special interest: Flint Castle (SJ2473); Hawarden Castle (SJ3165); Rhuddlan Castle (SJ0277); St. Asaph Cathedral (SJ0374); Sun Centre, Rhyl (SJ0082); Welsh Ewloe Castle (SJ2867); Wepre Country Park, Connah's Quay (SJ2968).

Glamorgan. Known in Welsh as Morgannwg. A maritime County bounded N. by Brecknockshire, E. by Monmouthshire, S. by the Bristol Channel, and W. by Carmarthenshire and Carmarthen Bay. Area 518,863 acres. Population 1,220,000. The highest point is at Craig-y-llyn (1,969 ft). Glamorgan is the most populous and industrialised County in Wales. The northern part of the County is a mountainous area, dissected by deep narrow valleys, with urbanisation typified by ribbon devlopment. Although the coal industry, which shaped these valleys and their communities, has now all but disappeared, this area remains heavily populated with light industry and the service sector now providing the economic base. The Vale of Glamorgan, a lowland area mainly comprising farmland and small villages stretches across most of the S. of the County from Porthcawl to Cardiff. Further W., beyond Swansea, lies the Gower penisula, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The major rivers of Glamorgan include the Taff, the Ely, the Ogmore, the Dulais, the Rhymney (which forms the border with Monmouthshire) and the Lougher (which forms the border with Carmarthenshire). The main towns include Aberdare, Barry, Bridgend, Cardiff, Caerphilly, Cowbridge, Maesteg, Merthyr Tydfil, Mountain Ash, Neath, Penarth, Pontypridd, Porthcawl, Port Talbot, Swansea. The County has a wide and diverse economic base including: public administration, agriculture, light industry, manufacturing, service sector, tourism.
Places of special interest: Aberdulais Falls (SS7799); Barry Island pleasure beach (ST1066); Caerphilly Castle (ST1587); Cardiff Castle (ST1876); Castell Coch, Tongwynlais (ST1382); Ewenny Priory (SS9177); Llandaff Cathedral (ST1578); Dare Valley Country Park (SN9802); Dunraven Park, Southerndown (SS8872); Museum of Welsh Life, St. Fagans (ST1177); National Museum of Wales, Cardiff (ST1776); Old Beaupre Castle (ST0072); Ogmore Castle (SS8876); Oxwich Castle (SS4986); Margam Country Park (SS8086); Penscynor Wildlife Park, Cilfrew (SS7699); Swansea Maritime and Industrial Museum (SS6592); Tinkinswood burial chamber (ST0973); Weobley Castle (SS4792).

Merioneth. Known in Welsh as Meirionnydd. A maritime County bounded N. by Caernarfonshire, E. by Denbighshire, SE. and S. by Montgomeryshire and Cardiganshire, and W. by Cardigan Bay. Area 427,810 acres. Population 39,000. The coastline is alternatively cliffs and streches of sand and the County generally is the most mountainous in Wales. A large part of the Snowdonia National Park lies in the County. The greatest heights are Aran Mawddwy (2970ft) and Cader Idris (2929 ft). The chief rivers are the Dwyryd, the Mawddach and the Dovey. Waterfalls and small lakes are numerous the largest being Bala Lake (4 miles long and 1 mile broad). The main towns are Bala, Barmouth, Blaenau Ffestiniog, Corwen, Dolgellau, Ffestiniog and Tywyn. The main industries are agriculture and tourism.
Places of special interest: Castell-y-Bere ((SH6608); Cymer Abbey (SH7291); Ffestiniog railway (SH6946); Harlech Castle (SH5731); Portmeirion italianate village (SH5837); Rhug Chapel (SJ0543); Tomen-y-mur Roman Fort (SH7038).

Monmouthshire. Known in Welsh as Sir Fynwy. A maritime County bounded N. by Herefordshire and Brecknockshire, E. by Gloucestershire, S. by the Bristol channel and W. by Glamorgan. Area 341,688 acres. Population 474,000. The N. and NW. of the County is mountainous, the Black Mountains extend into the County. The highest point is Chwarel-y-Fan (2,226 ft). The former coal mining valleys of the NW of the County remain heavily populated, although there is no longer a working pit in the County. Towards the seaboard the land is flatter and lowland farming predominates. The main towns are Abergavenny, Abertillery, Blackwood, Blaenavon, Chepstow, Cwmbran, Ebbw Vale, Monmouth, Newport, Pontypool, Rhymney and Tredegar. The chief rivers are the Wye (much of which forms the border with England), the Usk and the Rhymney (which forms the border with Glamorgan). The County has a diverse industrial base including agriculture, electronics, engineering, tourism and service industries.
Places of special interest: Abergavenny Castle (SO2913); Big Pit Mining Museum, Blaenavon (SO2308); Blaenavon Ironworks (SO2509); Bryn Bach Country Park, Tredegar (SO1209); Chepstow Castle (ST5294); Caerleon Roman Ampitheatre, Baths and Garrison (ST3390); Caerwent Roman Town (ST4690); Greenmeadow Community Farm, Cwmbran (ST2794); Raglan Castle (SO4108); Newport Museum and Art Gallery (ST3187); Sirhowy Valley Country Park (ST1891); Tintern Abbey (SO4900); White Castle (SO3716).

Montgomeryshire. Known in Welsh as Sir Drefaldwyn. An inland County, bounded N. by Denbighshire, E. and SE. by Shropshire, S. by Radnorshire, SW by Cardiganshire and W. and NW. by Merioneth. Area 510,111 acres. Population 52,000. The County is almost wholly mountainous, although there are some fertile valleys on the Shropshire side. The highest point is Mole Sych (2,713 ft). The principal rivers are the Severn and its affluent, the Dovey. Lake Vyrnwy is a reservoir supplying Liverpool. The main towns are Llanfyllin, Machynlleth, Montgomery, Newtown and Welshpool. The main industries are agriculture (mainly hill farming) and tourism.
Places of special interest: Bryn Tail Lead Mine Buildings (SN9186); Centre for Alternative Technology, Machynlleth (SH7504); Dolforwyn Castle (SO1595); Montgomery Castle (SO2296); Powis Castle, Welshpool (SJ2106); Trefeglwys Tumuli (SN8792).

Pembrokeshire. Known in Welsh as Sir Benfro. A maritime County, washed by the sea on all sides except in the N. where it is bounded by Cardiganshire and in the E. where it is bounded by Carmarthenshire. Area 395,151 acres. Population 112,000. The highest point is at Wadbury Hill (974 ft). The County looks out to sea on three sides, taking in 170 miles of magnificent coastline comprising important seabird breeding sites and numerous bays and sandy beaches. Almost all of the coast is included in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. In the N. are the Prescelly Mountains, a wide stretch of high moorland with many prehistoic monuments. Elsewhere the County is relatively flat, most of the land being used for lowland farming. Oil tankers dock in the deep estuarine waters of Milford Haven. The chief rivers are the Eastern Cleddau, the Western Cleddau and the Solva. The main towns are Fishguard, Haverfordwest, Milford Haven, Narberth, Newport, Pembroke, Pembroke Dock, St. David's and Tenby. The main industries are tourism, agriculture and oil refining.
Places of special interest: Bishop's Palace, Lamphey (SN0100); Carew Castle (SN0404); Carew Cross (SN0403); Cilgerran Castle (SN1943); Manorbier Castle (SS0697); Oakwood Leisure Park, nr Narberth (SN0612); Pembroke Castle (SM9801); Pentre Ifan burial chamber (SN0937); St. David's Cathedral (SM7525); Skomer Island (SM7209); Skokholme Island (SM7305).

Radnorshire. Known in Welsh as Sir Faesyfed. An inland County, bounded N. by Montgomeryshire and Shropshire, E. by Herefordshire, S. and SW. by Brecknockshire and W. by Cardiganshire. Areas 301,164 acres. Population 23,000. In the E. and S. are some comparatively level tracts, including the Vale of Radnor, but most of the County is mountainous, with the Cambrian Mountains running through the W. of the County. The highest point is at Radnor Forest (2,166 ft). The Elan Valley contains several huge man-made reservoirs supplying water to Birmingham. The main rivers are the Wye, the Elan and the Ithon. The chief towns are Knighton, Llandrindod Wells, Llanelwedd, New Radnor, Presteigne and Rhayader. The main industries are tourism and hill farming.
Places of special interest: Abbey Cwmhir (SO0571); Beguildy Tumuli (SO1776); Broadheath House, Presteigne (SO3363); Elan Valley Vistor's Centre (SN9264); Offa's Dyke (SO2763, SO2872); The Rock Park, Llandrindod Wells (SO0560).

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